At the dentist’s office the other day I saw some kind of news-talk TV show where several commentators were discussing the Duck Dynasty-Phil Robertson-homosexuality-comments controversy. “Of course,” one said, his comments “were vile.” Others have called them hateful, or hate-speech, with the same “of course” presumption. Some questions are in order.
Where does that “of course” come from? Where do commentators (or anyone else) get off dismissing one value judgment (homosexuality is sin) by invoking their own, in such an “of course” sort of way? I can only think of two possible answers. One would be some sort of natural law argument – things that are self evident don’t need to be justified. The problem is, Phil Robertson was also making a natural law argument, with his memorable “the parts don’t fit” explanation. He could have, as others have, bolstered the natural law argument by pointing out the extremely unhealthy nature of certain male homosexual practices which amount basically to playing in the body’s sewer system (not just anal intercourse, but licking the anus, nicknamed “rimming”). Compounding such unhealthy practices with typical male homosexual promiscuity and the natural law argument gets stronger. So who is to say one natural law argument is superior to another? I’d say the one who at least explains his reasoning (Phil) has the edge over the one who just says “of course.”
If on the other hand the opinion giver’s “of course” is not based on some sort of natural law, then I can only think of “consensus” as an alternative. It’s something “we” “all” agree on, it’s something that is settled by majority custom. The obvious problem with such reasoning is that majority consensus has often been wrong, meaning it is unsafe to rely upon it at present. And of course, it used to be consensus that homosexual conduct was itself vile – “of course!” and needed to be prohibited.
One objection would possibly be that it’s neither of these two but rather that scientific and social progress has shown beyond reasonable doubt that homosexuality as a disposition and practice has no more moral significance than writing with the left hand rather than the right. My response is, sorry but that too is just a “consensus” argument. All of the so-called scientific claims made to support this “consensus” are in dispute.
Another objection to the above is the claim that what was “of course” “vile” about Phil’s comments was not so much saying homosexual practice is sin, but “equating” it with bestiality. This objection is based on a lie, since Phil did not “equate” the two, but spoke of one “morphing” into the other, implying that “the other” (bestiality) was the worse. Phil associated the two sins, along with many others, which is not the same as equating them. Such association is not original with Phil, as the two are mentioned quite close together in Leviticus 18 and 20 as “abominations” committed in the land of Canaan, causing such moral pollution that the land was going to vomit out its inhabitants. Anyone who takes such passages seriously is going to be concerned about the societal consequences of promoting moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. By the way, the Bible lists other sins as “abominations” besides these, such as crooked business practices, and lying: “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (lies such as claiming Phil Robertson “equated” homosexual practice with bestiality?).
Even if Robertson had made such an equation, here is my question: where do you get off being so judgmental against bestiality? Who do you think you are to say or imply that bestiality is vile? Are you going to appeal to some kind of natural law, or consensus? For reasons stated above, either choice gives you serious problems of logical consistency.
Likewise with calling Phil’s comments “hateful.” If it is hate speech to call certain conduct “sin,” why is it not hate speech to call Phil’s comments “sin?” Neither natural law nor consensus will supply a satisfactory answer.
My own informed guess is that natural law is too dangerous a thing to acknowledge by proponents of sexual-practice-equivalence. “Consensus” is an often used tool for advocates of a wide range of harmful contemporary social causes. Often you will find that the “consensus” is manipulated (e.g. the false claim that there is a consensus that human beings are causing global warming), or circular (all the best scientists believe in evolution [those who don’t are by definition not the best!]).